From dental assistant to the Dean
of Health Sciences, dental hygienist Lisa M. Baker, M.S., RDH, CDA, credits all
the open career doors she’s encountered to the decision to further her
education. Now her focus is on giving back to future dental and dental hygiene
students through the development of programs and services that will ensure their
is no greater feeling than being a part of someone else achieving their dream of
becoming a health professional,” says Prof. Baker during a recent sit down with
the ADEA GoDental team.
GoDental (GD): What initially led you to a
career in dental hygiene?
Lisa M. Baker (LB): I
began my career in dentistry as a dental assistant when I was 15 years old. I
signed up for an office technologies course in high school that had a work
co-op requirement. I was lucky enough to interview in a dental office for a part-time
receptionist position. That position led to on-the-job training as a dental
Once I turned 19, I enlisted in the United States Air Force as a dental
technician. Due to my previous dental experience, I was quickly trained as a
prophylaxis technician (the Air Force’s version of a dental hygienist). I
realized that I did not have all of the information I needed to properly
educate and treat patients with advanced periodontal disease based on the training
that I received. In 2001, the Air Force announced a unique opportunity titled
the Dental Hygiene Training Scholarship Program. The program would pay for
selected members to attend a dental hygiene program while still earning all
military pay and benefits. My previous supervisor encouraged me to apply to the
program. I completed the prerequisite courses while on active duty, applied and
was selected as one of the first 10 airmen to receive the Dental Hygiene
Training Scholarship. I attended the St. Petersburg College Dental Hygiene
Program and graduated with a bachelor of applied science in 2008.
(GD): How did
you first learn about your current position as an option within the dental
(LB): I have been incredibly fortunate to be surrounded
by the most amazing, knowledgeable and caring mentors. Tami Grzesikowski,
currently the Senior Director for Allied Dental Education at the American
Dental Education Association, was the dental hygiene program director at St.
Petersburg College, where she went on to become the Dean of Health Education. During
my first year in the St. Petersburg College Dental Hygiene Program, I
interviewed Tami for an assignment. I noticed the Master of Education degree
from University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill on her wall and told her I wanted
to be just like her when I grew up. Little did I know I would end up following
a very similar path to the Dean of Health Sciences position.
(GD): What does
a typical day in your current position entail?
(LB): This is a great question because I am not sure that
there is a typical day. Each day presents new and unique challenges for multiple
health sciences disciplines, so there are not typically two days that are
alike. My job is to ensure that faculty, staff and students have the tools they
need to be successful. The success of each program, faculty member and student
can involve a variety of issues. Our students at Central Carolina Community
College (CCCC) are nontraditional students and are presented with challenges
and barriers to achieving their dream of becoming a health sciences
professional. My job is to develop and sustain programs and services that will
ensure their success even as those needs change on a regular basis.
(GD): What skills
or personality traits would you say someone looking to obtain a similar role
(LB): Flexibility, positivity, humility, motivation, dedication,
organization skills and leadership skills are a must. Someone in this position
needs the ability to remain calm in the face of any challenge.
(GD): What is
your favorite part about being in your current role and why?
(LB): My favorite part of this position is the impact I am
able to make for each of the health sciences programs, faculty and students at CCCC.
With my health sciences experience in dental hygiene and Air Force leadership
background, I am able to make a broad impact on multiple professions, including
nursing, dental hygiene/assisting, medical assisting, veterinary medical
technology and health information technology. I am able to give the health sciences
professions a voice as senior leadership at the college.
motivated you to continue your education beyond the entry level?
(LB): My mentors motivated me to continue my education
and always pushed me to pursue advanced degrees alongside my dream of becoming
a dental hygiene educator. Obtaining my bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene,
followed by a master’s degree in dental hygiene education, has opened every
door to where I am now as the Dean of Health Sciences at CCCC. I am in the
process of applying as a doctoral candidate to earn a terminal credential. Education
is the one thing that the world can never take away from you once it is earned.
(GD): How did
your dental hygiene education help you prepare for your career?
(LB): My dental hygiene education helped prepare me
because it taught me to work as a part of a team, multi-task, critically think,
research topics as well as identify, analyze and solve problems and to never
(GD): What is
one thing you wish you knew about your current position before starting out?
(LB): I wish I would have known how much I would miss
actually teaching the future of dental hygiene. I do have a larger impact on
health professions as a whole, but I miss the daily interaction with students
that allowed them to achieve their dreams. There is no greater feeling than
being a part of someone else achieving their dream of becoming a health
(GD): If you could
give one piece of advice to dental hygiene students considering a role similar
to yours, what would it be?
(LB): Find a mentor who will coach you, develop you and
provide you with the tools to reach your dreams! I know without a doubt that my
mentors are the reason that I have pursued advanced education and an
alternative career pathway. I did not make an educational or career advancement
decision without seeking the input and feedback of my mentors.